Visiting Portland for the First Time

closePlease note: This post was published over a year ago, so please be aware that its content may not be quite so accurate anymore. Also, the format of the site has changed since it was published, so please excuse any formatting issues.

As many of you know, Morah and I celebrated our first anniversary in Portland. Neither of us had been to Portland before, so we were pretty excited to check it out.

We left Spokane on Friday morning, stopping in Pasco for lunch at a taco truck. I’ve since been told that I’m brave for eating at one, but I’m not sure why; the food was fantastic!

After a long drive that hugged the edges of the Columbia River, we arrived in Portland and checked in at our hotel, the Portland Inn City Center. The hotel was quite good overall, but I the wireless internet was unsecured and very spotty (half the time I couldn’t connect to the network from my room), and the water temperature in the shower wouldn’t stay steady. Other than those two things, it was a pretty good hotel, although I was a little miffed that a place touting itself as an inn didn’t serve a complimentary breakfast (back in the day, any place that called itself an inn not only had to provide a room and food, but stabling and food for a patron’s horse).

We wanted to walk around a bit, but we were in a bit of a hurry because we had made reservations to go on the Portland Underground tour. The tour was fun and the tunnels were really cool, but to my dismay, the tour we went on was the first “Halloween ghost tour” of the year. The difference seems to be that they focus less on the history and more on the folklore surrounding the tunnels. There’s still a ton of great historical info, you just have to put up with a bunch of, “isn’t that spooky” type of stories. Before the tour, our guide described a number of “spooky” things that could happen, including hearing voices, seeing shadows of people who aren’t there, smelling perfume where you shouldn’t be able to, feeling someone touching you when no one is there, lights turning on and off on their own, and doors opening and closing on their own. Being a Bright, I found it particularly amusing that none of this happening on the tour. Either way, I’d strongly suggest that people go on the tour.

Friday night was also our first experience with TriMet, Portland’s mass transit system. The service as a whole is fantastic for out-of-towners who don’t want to have to deal with driving and parking in Portland. I don’t know what the locals think of it, but we loved it (especially because it’s it’s free to ride in the downtown area).

We were up bright and early the next morning, ready to walk around the city and check it out. We caught the bus up to Chinatown and explored the beautiful Classical Chinese Garden. I probably took more pictures here than anywhere else on the trip. It was very tranquil and peaceful, but as our time in the garden wore on, more and more people showed up, which took away from some of the awe. If you’re planning to visit, I strongly suggest getting there as soon as they open so you can enjoy it before the masses show up.

Our next stop was the Portland Saturday Market, which was a lot bigger than we expected. The fountain in the middle of it all wasn’t filled with water, but ice and cans of Sierra Mist Free. There was a guy with a camera (looked like a VX2100 or something) videotaping the cans being handed out for free. I kind of wondered why he was there, and my suspicions were confirmed when I found an article online talking about how they plan to release a YouTube commercial with the footage (they shot in nine other cities, as well). I looked around quite a bit and didn’t see an area release posted, so if they do release a commercial and I’m in it, I won’t be very happy.

After we were finished poking around the Saturday Market, we were ready for lunch. Before we left, someone had told us about a really good Mexican restaurant that served authentic food. They couldn’t remember the name, but they were able to give us enough details about its location for someone at the hotel to make an accurate suggestion. He suggested that the restaurant could be called El Grillo and indicated its location on a map. The person who told us about the restaurant said it was right next door to, “a porn shop or something,” which we had forgotten about when we talked to the guy from the hotel. It turns out, El Grillo shares a bathroom with a strip club, so you have to be 21 to go to the bathroom (because in Oregon, they serve alcohol in strip clubs). The food was great (Morah’s chicken quesadilla was probably the best I’ve ever tasted), and we both had to go to the bathroom while we were there, so we got the “complete” El Grillo experience (and yes, there was a naked stripper dancing while we were in there).

Powell’s Books was our next stop. Bookstores are dangerous. Every time I walk into one, it’s hard to walk out without at least one book. At Powell’s, we bought more than one. We bought a book on learning to speak Finnish (Morah’s maiden name is Peltonen, which is a very common Finnish surname), an old and awesome copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species (which I look forward to finally reading), and a book that’s a present for someone who reads this blog, so I’m not going to say what it is (or who it’s for). There were dozens of other books that we wanted to buy, but we had to resist the urge.

Saturday night found us at Kell’s, an Irish Pub with awesome music and even better food. Morah and I both ate the lamb stew, which was fantastic. I can’t recommend it enough. I had some Irish whiskey and a pint of Guinness, and the highlight of the night was when the Kell’s pipe band marched through the front doors.

On Sunday morning, we decided to go out for breakfast (every other day we just went to a coffee shop next door to the hotel). Bijou Cafe was packed, but the wait wasn’t too long and the food was great. There was a couple who tried to bypass the line, but they got caught and sent back! Take that!

After breakfast, we drove across the Willamette River to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry for a day of geeky fun. There’s not much more for me to say about OMSI, other than, if you’re a geek, definitely don’t miss it.

We did a lot of research about Portland restaurants to try and figure out where to go for our anniversary dinner. In the end, the choice was pretty simple: The Portland City Grill. Don’t let their crappy website fool you; this upscale restaurant has haute cuisine and unbeatable views of the city (they’re located on the 30th floor of the U.S. Bancorp Tower). Morah’s opakapaka was divine, and my first experience with filet mignon has left me drooling for more.

After having great weather all weekend, Monday was a bit of a disappointment. We rode the MAX out to Washington Park, where we spent a couple of hours wandering around Hoyt Arboretum. We wanted to see the International Rose Test Garden, but it was a bit late in the season, and it started to rain. We also wanted to see the Japanese Garden, but there was a film crew shooting a movie (and again, it was raining). We had originally planned to see the zoo, but the rain also squashed those plans. Instead, we went back to the room and hung out for a few hours.

After the rain passed, we walked around the area near our hotel (which, surprisingly, we hadn’t done yet), then had dinner at The Melting Pot (whose draconian reservation policy took us by surprise).

We were sad to have to leave on Tuesday morning, but alas, to real life we must return. We had a great time in Portland, and although we didn’t get to do everything we wanted to, the silver lining is that now we have a great excuse to come back soon!

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  1. Brynna

    I’m reading your blog! Look at me reading your blog!

  2. grandma boston

    Just remembered about your website and checked it out. Enjoyed reading about your trip to Portland. Love, grandma Boston

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